For centuries, the Catholic Church has declared many different holy men and women to be saints through the strict legal process known as canonization. Traditionally, this process has included identifying which of two legal categories of holiness a candidate for sainthood fits into: confessor or martyr.
But in 2017, Pope Francis introduced a third option, called “offering of life.”
The pope defined this new category of Christian life as the experience of a premature death due to the offering, or sacrificing, of one’s life out of Christian charity.
Pope Francis wrote that “they are worthy of special consideration and honor, those Christians who, following in the footsteps and teachings of the Lord Jesus, have voluntarily and freely offered their lives for others.”
“The fact that after many centuries, a new road [to beatification] is introduced is certainly interesting,” Jenny Ponzo, a researcher studying canonization, told CNA. “At a minimum, it introduces a change to the models of sanctity that are put on the path to canonization.”
Before Pope Francis’ change, the Church’s tradition since the 4th century defined two paths to beatification, which is the last step before being declared a canonized saint.
These two paths are those of the confessor, someone who lived the virtues to an exceptional, or “heroic,” degree for a period of 10 years or more, and of the martyr, someone who died in faithfulness to God at the hand of a persecutor acting in hatred of the faith.
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